Written by Evan Braun
I am both the perfect person to be reviewing Babylon 5 and exactly the wrong person. Being an irrationally devoted fan of the series, it’s difficult for me to be objective about it. And it is therefore with this unique perspective that I sat down to watch this newest B5 release.
I expected to absolutely enjoy it. In my mind, if it was really great, than it was good … and if it was really mediocre, it would still be good on account of the fact that it had been so long since the last B5 movie. As it turns out, it was impossible for me to be as universally pleased as I’d anticipated. The Lost Tales is an extremely mixed bag. Unfortunately, most of what’s in that mix is pretty bad.
Though it’s billed as an original movie (it says so on the cover), it’s really two mini-episodes, each of which clocks in at about 32 and a fraction minutes. Collectively, they’re known as Voices in the Dark (though the menu inexplicably further breaks their titles down to Over Here and Over There).
The first episode features Tracy Scoggins’ Colonel Lochley still running the station 9 years after the show’s original run. My main complaint with this segment is that it simply doesn’t feel like Babylon 5. The story is bizarrely religious and doesn’t seem to draw on any of the show’s previously established characters or lore. In fact, were it not for the episode being set on the Babylon 5 station, I would be forced to conclude that the episode was completely independent of the series.
The second episode is a welcome return to form, reunited Tracy Scoggings with former co-stars Bruce Boxleitner (President John Sheridan) and Peter Woodward (Galen). Along with newcomer Keegan Macintosh in the role of Prince Vintari, third in line to the Centauri throne, we’re treated to a story of grand moral dilemmas and galactic consequences sung to the old B5 tune fans of the show have come to know and love.
The special effects are beautiful. Everything from the station to the ships, and even a short space battle sequence or two, is far and away better than anything we’ve seen on the show previous to this. Unfortunately, that’s where the accollades come to an abrupt stop.
While B5 was always reasonably low budget, this release is unreasonably so. The writing and directing seems to bend over backwards to avoid having to show any of the old sets (they don’t exist anymore) or the old characters, of which there are many (they couldn’t be afforded). Instead we get a shadow of the original ensemble doing their best in front of countless green screens.
The production seems to have been able to afford to construct only three and a half real sets. A Babylon 5 corridor (which, by the way, hardly resembles the station at all as I remember it), a corridor on Sheridan’s ship, a stripped-down interrogation room, and half of Lochley’s quarters. The budget constraints are painfully obvious.
That said, the only way to increase the budget and make more of these films is to have people purchase the first one. So please do; this production needs all the help it can get.
The widescreen transfer is far superior to the widescreen version we were treated to on the original series DVD releases (which were sometimes really grainy). The video this time around is crystal clear and completely free of artefacting. The special effects are an absolute wonder … too bad there weren’t more of them. The tone and colour of the video is rather dark most of the time, but purposefully so.
This release features a 5.1 Dolby surround mix, and it is beautiful. Only one problem: due to budget constraints, 90% of the film’s running time consists of people talking incessently at each other, so the 6-channel mix never really reaches its full potential. What is here, however, is pretty crisp.
The music track is composed by B5 veteran Christopher Franke to great effect. And fortunately, the sound is a lot less synthy than it used to be.
There’s quite a lot of bonus material on this disc. Much more, in fact, than I would have expected. I hope you like the sound of series creator J. Michael Straczynski’s voice, though, or else you’re probably not going to make it through them all. Straczynski conducts sit-down on-the-set interviews with Bruce Boxleitner and Peter Woodward. Actress Tracy Scoggings takes the viewer on a short tour of the incomprehensibly small set, introducing us to a few key behind-the-scenes players.
The cast and crew present short, touching memorials for two original series castmembers who have passed away since the show’s conclusion: namely, Richard Biggs and Andreas Katsulas.
Straczynski then continues to talk his way through The Straczynski Diaries (a dozen short segments chronicling the project’s progress from conception through execution) and Fireside Chats (in which Straczynski talks … and talks and talks … about many of the people involved in bringing the series to life.
If you’re a Babylon 5 enthusiast, you won’t be able to pass this up. If you’re not, however, don’t expect much to catch your interest. While I can appreciate this production for my own reasons, chances are you have to be “in on the joke,” per se, to really get the appeal.